Growing up, I was really close to my neighbours and my community definitely took the saying “it takes a village to raise a child” very seriously. One neighbour was our swimming instructor, another was the designated chaperone for all PG-13 cinema trips, and my mum was the one who would always pick all the kids up from the school bus. Everyone helped each other out, but of course that also meant everyone knew all of my business. It was a relief when I came to London and I felt my first sense of anonymity – I didn’t feel like someone was constantly watching my every move, ready to tattle on me to my parents.
But without realising, I also lost my sense of community. From missed parcel deliveries because I didn’t know who to ask to sign for them, to awkward lift journeys when I thought someone was following me (but they turned out to be my next door neighbour), you could say I most definitely did not know my neighbours. So when the pandemic arrived, I realised I was in a building with 39 other households that I knew absolutely nothing about.
One day, after an unsuccessful journey to get groceries (remember the hoarding?!), I heard a quiet knock on my front door and opened it to see a pint of milk. I looked up and down the corridor and saw my neighbour hurrying back into her flat without a backwards glance. Turns out she’d seen me nearly break down in tears at my local Tesco because I couldn’t find milk. I dropped a thank you card through her letter box with my number and told her if she ever needed anything that she could reach out to help. And she did reach out. But it turns out, it wasn’t her that needed help. It was my community that needed help. From students who needed SIM cards to get online to do distance learning, to the homeless community who needed a place to stay while nearly all hotels shut, to older residents who were shielding but didn’t know how to get groceries. She did a little bit of everything that the community needed and got me into the world of community organising and for that I am extremely grateful.
We’ve all lost so much these few years, from time spent with loved ones to career opportunities and more, and it’s often easy to forget that many started off without these before the pandemic arrived. So as we head out into the world again, here are a few ways that you can contribute to your community and support those who are in need…
After school programmes
If you believe that education is the key to unlocking opportunities, these are two brilliant education-based initiatives that you can get involved in…
- IntoUniversity: Provides local learning centres where young people are inspired through academic support, mentoring and programmes that promote young people’s aspiration
- Founders4Schools: With a mission to inspire students and prepare them for the rapidly changing world of work, Founders4Schools runs an online platform that enables educators to invite business leaders for encounters with their students in just 4 minutes.
If you’d like to be on your feet a little more and interact with not just young people, there are numerous places that would appreciate your consistent time and effort…
- Food banks: Find your local food bank and sign up to hear when they need volunteers for packing, delivery or in-person distribution
- NHS volunteer responders: You can either help out at vaccine centres, help those who are unable to run errands, provide lifts to medical appointments, ormake regular contact with those who live alone via regular phone calls
- Age UK: If you love a good natter this one may be for you! You can volunteer your words by supporting their Telephone Friendship Service or Age UK Advice Line, or even becoming a digital buddy for old people.
- Citizens Advice Bureau: Find your local Citizens Advice Bureau where you can help your local community by giving advice across a huge range of topics. Each branch often recruits for different volunteers based on skill sets, ranging from admin tasks, registration, to more specific advice giving.
Supporting social enterprises
If you love trying something new, why not find your local social enterprise via Social Enterprise UK. One of my favourite local social enterprises is Ebury by Fat Macy’s, which is a social enterprise that uses their restaurant and events catering business to train and support Londoners living in temporary accommodation and help them move into their own homes.
There’s always a cynicism around donating money to causes and charities, and it’s easy to forget that these charities are organisations that often need help in covering overhead and operating costs. You can of course find a cause close to your heart (might I suggest Mermaids, who supports transgender, nonbinary and gender-diverse children and young people until their 20th birthday, as well as their families and professionals involved in their care). You can make monthly contributions (this will be much appreciated!) or one-off donations.
Alternatively, you can always donate other things such as blood via the NHS Blood Donation website, donate food parcels and toiletries to a food bank or the collection points at your nearest large supermarket, or donate clothes after a wardrobe clearout to your local charity shop.
If at this time, all you can lend to support your community is your voice and time, then speak up for a cause that matters. Whether it be local planning permission, a new law being passed in Parliament, government decisions, or social issues make your voice be heard by reaching out to your MP. You can find the detail of your local MP here, and don’t forget to include your address in your email so they know you’re a constituent and have to respond.
Don’t forget, what goes around comes around, so the more you put out to help others in the world will only come back to help you one day when you need it. Happy contributing!